Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s latest movie, Enemy, involves star Jake Gyllenhaal discovering that he has a double living in the same city where he resides, dreamlike images of spiders, struggles with physical and emotional intimacy and sociopolitical themes.
Nonetheless, the Quebec-born Villeneuve maintains, “Basically, this movie is a very simple story.
“The movie, like the book [The Double, by the late Portuguese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago], is about the idea that repetition is hell. How can we get out of cycles of repetition? How can we stop as an individual or as a society to repeat over and over again the same mistakes?”
During the conversation, Villeneuve admits that he, too, may have assumed Enemy would be oppressively challenging. That assumption was also a mistake.
“When I presented Enemy in a theater, I said to the audience at the beginning it was an enigma because I had heard the distributors say to me that it was complex and that it was not for a wide audience. Every time I’d present it to an audience I’d come in front of them and say, ‘You know what, if you don’t get it in the first place, it’s normal. It’s a challenge. It’s designed to be playful. It’s a game,’” he recalls.
“Every time when people were coming out of the theater, they’d say, it’s not that complicated. I got it. Hollywood has a tendency to think that audiences are stupid, but it’s not true. People like to be challenged. I trust the audience. I love that relationship.”
This might explain why Villeneuve has been able to achieve critical and commercial success with movies that don’t fit neatly into any particular genre. Maelstrom, for example, is a story about people told from the point of view of a fish. The Oscar-nominated Incendies involves a mystery set in a Middle Eastern civilwar. While last year’s Prisoners starred Hugh Jackman and Gyllenhaal and could be classified as a thriller, it’s the sort of character-driven story Hollywood rarely makes now.
“I must say the screenplay was very strong, and I must say that Alcon Entertainment, the studio behind the movie, were really gentlemen because they trusted my approach to the screenplay because I thought the movie would be more powerful if we gave more space and time to the characters,” Villeneuve says.
“I think we have a tendency to polarize our view of the world and to simplify it to where it’s black or it’s white. It’s a puzzle. It’s not as simple as one or zero.”
THE MAGICAL DOUBLE
While Prisoners and Enemy debuted together at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Villeneuve says he completed principal photography on Enemy first. When asked about how Gyllenhaal contributed to his work, the director recounted that having an actor who could be convincing in two different roles without makeup or costume changes was essential.
“I could tell which character Jake was just by the way he was breathing, by the way he was moving his head. It was very subtle. My job as a director was not to bring out the differences in the character. It was the opposite. I had to bring back both characters to the other because it was so easy for him to make them too different. He could have made 25 characters in front of the camera,” he says.
In addition to setting up an environment where it’s normal to see two Jake Gyllenhaals at once, Enemy is filled with sights of spiders and webs. While Villeneuve gushes about Saramago’s novel throughout the conversation, he freely admits the arachnids are nowhere to be found in the text.
“The book is not an adaptation. The movie is inspired by the book, by my love of the book. But it’s not a faithful adaptation. Because when you adapt a book for the screen, there’s always something you have to kill. I always think that in order to be faithful, you need to also be a traitor. I need to digest the ideas and to turn them into images. The process is very violent,” he says.
“I had to find one image that would translate those ideas, and the spider was the perfect image for me. To understand this image you have to go back in the movie andfind the keys and the clues. A lot of movies that have been favorites of mine are enigmas. I wanted at least one time in my life to have the luxury to try this.”
SOMETHING IN THE WATER
Villeneuve is hardly the only filmmaker from Quebec receiving recognition outside of Canada or succeeding abroad. Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions) is an Oscar winner, Jean-Marc Vallee helmed Dallas Buyers Club and few are probably aware that William Shatner began his long acting career in his native Montreal.
When asked if there is anything special about Quebec that has resulted in it producing so many talented cinematic artists, Villeneuve says, “What is beautiful in Quebec is that the government is supporting the filmmakers in an unconditional way. It means that we are allowed to make movies with low budgets, but we are totally free. More and more it allows the birth of new generations of filmmakers who are able to develop their voice. I have a lot of faith in movies coming out of Quebec in the [forthcoming] years.”
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 03/28/2014
Print Headline: Director: Audience savors daring Enemy